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Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Phalke Talkies

Filmmaker Kamal Swaroop compiles his research of over 20 years on the life of Dadasaheb Phalke in a coffee-table book.

Written by Prajakta Hebbar | Published: May 17, 2013 1:38:51 am

For noted filmmaker Kamal Swaroop,pictures,ideas and thoughts present themselves in the form of a mental scrapbook. The text mingles with pictures and cut-outs super-impose colourful fragments of random thoughts and figures. “That is what life is,tracing various crafts and obsessing over something that changes your world,” says the veteran filmmaker. His latest venture is the result of a two-decade obsession. Celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema,National Film Development Corporation released the limited-edition illustrated coffee-table book titled Tracing Phalke by Swaroop,earlier this month.

The Mumbai-based filmmaker’s world changed almost 23 years ago,a time when he decided to work on a biographical project on the life of Dadasaheb Phalke,the father of Indian cinema. This was in the early ’90s and Swaroop was still reeling from the after-effects of his film Om Dar-Ba-Dar (1989). Touted as a cinematic masterpiece by some and a surreal piece of work by others,the film was famously banned in India.

That is when he stumbled across Phalke and his story. “While researching,we heard of a missing autobiography which he wrote and had dictated to his wife Saraswati,and daughter Mandakini. It was an interplay of dreams,memories and fantasies,his encounters with famous personalities that shaped his character and destiny,” says Swaroop. It was more like a snowball project for him. “The more I researched,the more I found out,” he says,adding that essentially he wanted to reconstruct that missing book.

Most of the research that Swaroop had done required him to assemble various bits of newspaper cuttings,photographs,photocopies and hand-written notes. Armed with glue and scissors,Swaroop would obsessively cut and paste all the bits of information in a giant scrapbook. Tracing Phalke is also designed like that. It’s a giant eponymous compilation tracing the life of Phalke.

Born near Nashik in Maharashtra,Phalke studied art from JJ School of Arts in Mumbai and later went on to study sculpture,engineering and photography at Kala Bhavan in Vadodara,Gujarat. He also worked with German magician Carl Hertz,one of the 40 magicians employed by the Lumiere Brothers,followed by a stint at the Archeological Survey of India as a draftsman. However,restless with his job and its constraints,he turned to the business of printing. Phalke specialised in lithography and oleography and worked for Raja Ravi Varma. He later started his own printing press and made his first trip abroad to Germany in order to learn about the latest technology and machinery.

At first,Swaroop,who has worked with noted filmmakers such as Mani Kaul,Mira Nair,Aparna Sen,Saeed Akhtar Mirza,Shyam Benegal and Sai Paranjpe,had decided to showcase the life and times of Phalke through short films. Over the course of 20 years of research,he made over seven short films on the legend. “I visited the cities he had lived and worked in,” says the filmmaker,who has also worked with Richard Attenborough for the Academy award-winning film Gandhi. The latest short film in the series is set in Varanasi,a place where Phalke wrote and directed a play titled Rangabhoomi.

But Swaroop feels that Project Phalke is a long-term venture. Armed with a brand new script,he is now working on a full-length feature film. “I am working on making a mainstream film on Phalke’s life. It is part fantasy,part fiction with more focus on the late 19th century to mid-20th century era. It will revolve around how Phalke worked with noted artistes of that time,such as Raja Ravi Verma and Shantaram,among others,” says Swaroop. He adds that he would like Aamir Khan to play the role of Phalke.

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